The robot teller at the bank just pinged with electronic shock when he presented one of the bills and flashed a panel that directed him to see Vice President Wain. Wain was a smooth customer who bugged his eyes and lost some of his tan when he saw the sheaf of bills.
"You … wish to deposit these with us?" he asked while his fingers unconsciously stroked them.
"Not today," Jason said. "They were paid to me as a debt. Would you please check that they are authentic and change them? I'd like five hundred thousand credit notes."
Both of his inner chest pockets were packed tight when he left the bank. The bills were good and he felt like a walking mint. This was the first time in his entire life that carrying a large sum of money made him uncomfortable. Waving to a passing helicab he went directly to the Casino, where he knew he would be safe—for a while.
Cassylia Casino was the playspot of the nearby cluster of star systems. It was the first time Jason had seen it, though he knew its type well. He had spent most of his adult life in casinos like this on other worlds. The decor differed but they were always the same. Gambling and socialities in public—and behind the scenes all the private vice you could afford. Theoretically no-limit games, but that was true only up to a certain point. When the house was really hurt the honest games stopped being square and the big winner had to watch his step very carefully. These were the odds Jason dinAlt had played against countless times before. He was wary but not very concerned.
The dining room was almost empty and the major-domo quickly rushed to the side of the relaxed stranger in the richly cut clothes. Jason was lean and dark, looking more like the bored scion of some rich family than a professional gambler. This appearance was important and he cultivated it. The cuisine looked good and the cellar turned out to be wonderful. He had a professional talk with the sommelier while waiting for the soup, then settled down to enjoy his meal.
He ate leisurely and the large dining room was filled before he was through. Watching the entertainment over a long cigar killed some more time. When he finally went to the gaming rooms they were filled and active.
Moving slowly around the room he dropped a few thousand credits. He scarcely noticed how he played, giving more attention to the feel of the games. The play all seemed honest and none of the equipment was rigged. That could be changed very quickly, he realized. Usually it wasn't necessary, house percentage was enough to assure a profit.
Once he saw Kerk out of the corner of his eye but he paid him no attention. The ambassador was losing small sums steadily at seven-and-silver and seemed to be impatient. Probably waiting for Jason to begin playing seriously. He smiled and strolled on slowly.
Jason settled on the dice table as he usually did. It was the surest way to make small winnings. And if I feel it tonight I can clean this casino out! That was his secret, the power that won for him steadily—and every once in a while enabled him to make a killing and move on quickly before the hired thugs came to get the money back.
The dice reached him and he threw an eight the hard way. Betting was light and he didn't push himself, just kept away from the sevens. He made the point and passed a natural. Then he crapped out and the dice moved on.
Sitting there, making small automatic bets while the dice went around the table, he thought about the power. Funny, after all the years of work we still don't know much about psi. They can train people a bit, and improve skills a bit—but that's all.
He was feeling strong tonight, he knew that the money in his pocket gave him the extra lift that sometimes helped him break through. With his eyes half closed he picked up the dice—and let his mind gently caress the pattern of sunken dots. Then they shot out of his hand and he stared at a seven.
It was there.
Stronger than he had felt it in years. The stiff weight of those million-credit notes had done it. The world all around was sharp-cut clear and the dice was completely in his control. He knew to the tenth-credit how much the other players had in their wallets and was aware of the cards in the hands of the players behind him.
Slowly, carefully, he built up the stakes.
There was no effort to the dice, they rolled and sat up like trained dogs. Jason took his time and concentrated on the psychology of the players and the stick man. It took almost two hours to build his money on the table to seven hundred thousand credits. Then he caught the stick man signaling they had a heavy winner. He waited until the hard-eyed man strolled over to watch the game, then he smiled happily, bet all his table stakes—and blew it on one roll of the dice. The house man smiled happily, the stick man relaxed—and out of the corner of his eye Jason saw Kerk turning a dark purple.
Sweating, pale, his hand trembling ever so slightly, Jason opened the front of his jacket and pulled out one of the envelopes of new bills. Breaking the seal with his finger he dropped two of them on the table.
"Could we have a no-limit game?" he asked, "I'd like to—win back some of my money."
The stick man had trouble controlling his smile now, he glanced across at the house man who nodded a quick yes. They had a sucker and they meant to clean him. He had been playing from his wallet all evening, now he was cracking into a sealed envelope to try for what he had lost. A thick envelope too, and probably not his money. Not that the house cared in the least. To them money had no loyalties. The play went on with the Casino in a very relaxed mood.
Which was just the way Jason wanted it. He needed to get as deep into them as he could before someone realized they might be on the losing end. The rough stuff would start and he wanted to put it off as long as possible. It would be hard to win smoothly then—and his psi power might go as quickly as it had come. That had happened before.
He was playing against the house now, the two other players were obvious shills, and a crowd had jammed solidly around to watch. After losing and winning a bit he hit a streak of naturals and his pile of gold chips tottered higher and higher. There was nearly a billion there, he estimated roughly. The dice were still falling true, though he was soaked with sweat from the effort. Betting the entire stack of chips he reached for the dice. The stick man reached faster and hooked them away.
"House calls for new dice," he said flatly.
Jason straightened up and wiped his hands, glad of the instant's relief. This was the third time the house had changed dice to try and break his winning streak, it was their privilege. The hard-eyed Casino man opened his wallet as he had done before and drew out a pair at random. Stripping off their plastic cover he threw them the length of the table to Jason. They came up a natural seven and Jason smiled.
When he scooped them up the smile slowly faded. The dice were transparent, finely made, evenly weighted on all sides—and crooked.
The pigment on the dots of five sides of each die was some heavy metal compound, probably lead. The sixth side was a ferrous compound. They would roll true unless they hit a magnetic field—that meant the entire surface of the table could be magnetized. He could never have spotted the difference if he hadn't looked at the dice with his mind. But what could he do about it?
Shaking them slowly he glanced quickly around the table. There was what he needed. An ashtray with a magnet in its base to hold it to the metal edge of the table. Jason stopped shaking the dice and looked at them quizzically, then reached over and grabbed the ashtray. He dropped the base against his hand.
As he lifted the ashtray there was a concerted gasp from all sides. The dice were sticking there, upside down, box cars showing.
"Are these what you call honest dice?" he asked.
The man who had thrown out the dice reached quickly for his hip pocket. Jason was the only one who saw what happened next. He was watching that hand closely, his own fingers near his gun butt. As the man dived into his pocket a hand reached out of the crowd behind him. From its square-cut size it could have belonged to only one person. The thick thumb and index finger clamped swiftly around the house man's wrist, then they were gone. The man screamed shrilly and held up his arm, his hand dangling limp as a glove from the broken wrist bones.
With his flank well protected, Jason could go on with the game. "The old dice if you don't mind," he said quietly.
Dazedly the stick man pushed them over. Jason shook quickly and rolled. Before they hit the table he realized he couldn't control them—the transient psi power had gone.
End over end they turned. And faced up seven.
Counting the chips as they were pushed over to him he added up a bit under two billion credits. They would be winning that much if he left the game now—but it wasn't the three billion that Kerk needed. Well, it would have to be enough. As he reached for the chips he caught Kerk's eye across the table and the other man shook his head in a steady no.
"Let it ride," Jason said wearily, "one more roll."
He breathed on the dice, polished them on his cuff, and wondered how he had ever gotten into this spot. Billions riding on a pair of dice. That was as much as the annual income of some planets. The only reason there could be stakes like that was because the planetary government had a stake in the Casino. He shook as long as he could, reaching for the control that wasn't there—then let fly.
Everything else had stopped in the Casino and people were standing on tables and chairs to watch. There wasn't a sound from that large crowd. The dice bounced back from the board with a clatter loud in the silence and tumbled over the cloth.
A five and a one. Six. He still had to make his point. Scooping up the dice Jason talked to them, mumbled the ancient oaths that brought luck and threw again.
It took five throws before he made the six.
The crowd echoed his sigh and their voices rose quickly. He wanted to stop, take a deep breath, but he knew he couldn't. Winning the money was only part of the job—they now had to get away with it. It had to look casual. A waiter was passing with a tray of drinks. Jason stopped him and tucked a hundred-credit note in his pocket.
"Drinks are on me," he shouted while he pried the tray out of the waiter's hands. Well-wishers cleared the filled glasses away quickly and Jason piled the chips onto the tray. They more than loaded it, but Kerk appeared that moment with a second tray.
"I'll be glad to help you, sir, if you will permit me," he said.
Jason looked at him, and laughed permission. It was the first time he had a clear look at Kerk in the Casino. He was wearing loose, purple evening pajamas over what must have been a false stomach. The sleeves were long and baggy so he looked fat rather than muscular. It was a simple but effective disguise.
Carefully carrying the loaded trays, surrounded by a crowd of excited patrons, they made their way to the cashier's window. The manager himself was there, wearing a sickly grin. Even the grin faded when he counted the chips.
"Could you come back in the morning," he said, "I'm afraid we don't have that kind of money on hand."
"What's the matter," Kerk shouted, "trying to get out of paying him? You took my money easy enough when I lost—it works both ways!"
The onlookers, always happy to see the house lose, growled their disagreement. Jason finished the matter in a loud voice.
"I'll be reasonable, give me what cash you have and I'll take a check for the balance."
There was no way out. Under the watchful eye of the gleeful crowd the manager packed an envelope with bills and wrote a check. Jason took a quick glimpse at it, then stuffed it into an inside pocket. With the envelope under one arm he followed Kerk towards the door.
Because of the onlookers there was no trouble in the main room, but just as they reached the side entrance two men moved in, blocking the way.
"Just a moment—" one said. He never finished the sentence. Kerk walked into them without slowing and they bounced away like tenpins. Then Kerk and Jason were out of the building and walking fast.
"Into the parking lot," Kerk said. "I have a car there."
When they rounded the corner there was a car bearing down on them. Before Jason could get his gun clear of the holster Kerk was in front of him. His arm came up and his big ugly gun burst through the cloth of his sleeve and jumped into his hand. A single shot killed the driver and the car swerved and crashed. The other two men in the car died coming out of the door, their guns dropping from their hands.
After that they had no trouble. Kerk drove at top speed away from the Casino, the torn sleeve of his pajamas whipping in the breeze, giving glimpses of the big gun back in the holster.
"When you get the chance," Jason said, "you'll have to show me how that trick holster works."
"When we get the chance," Kerk answered as he dived the car into the city access tube.